Ross Murphy
Director, Deep Fork Wetlands Coalition
Tulsa, Oklahoma

Ross Murphy, an award winner in the nonprofit category, is a drilling manager for Helmmerich & Payne, Inc., an independent oil and gas exploration company in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In 1988, Murphy created the Deep Fork Wetlands Coalition to protect 25 percent of the remaining wetlands in Oklahoma-80,000 acres that lay along the Deep Fork River. His efforts led to the creation of the Deep Fork River National Wildlife Refuge and the Deep Fork River Wildlife Management Area.

At a wetlands symposium several years ago, Murphy heard a report on a proposed Deep Fork River National Wildlife Refuge. The professional wildlife manager presenting the report painted an accurate, but very bleak picture. Wetlands in Oklahoma were disappearing at an alarming rate. The Deep Fork River represented 25 percent of the remaining wetlands in Oklahoma and were particularly threatened. The Deep Fork provides year-round habitat for many game and nongame species and has been identified by the North American Waterfowl Management Plan as one of the most important areas in the Central Flyway for wintering mallard ducks.

Motivated by what he had learned, Murphy formed a new organization called the Deep Fork Wetlands Coalition. He quickly found that preservation plans for the Deep Fork were neither new or unique. Governor Henry Bellmen, while serving in the United States Senate, had first proposed a refuge along this meandering central Oklahoma stream, but his proposal brought a strong outcry from landowners along the Deep Fork River, who were vehemently opposed to such a project. The idea was revived periodically over the next two decades, but it met the same fate each time.

Realizing the challenge was greater than he had thought, Murphy first addressed the source of resistance—the landowners. After countless hours of phone calls and knocking on doors, he obtained their support on a “willing buyer willing seller basis.” He then lined up a long list of state wildlife and sportsmen’s groups that back the concept of a Deep Fork refuge. He met with lawmakers and explained the benefits of a refuge, wrote hundreds of letters, spent countless hours on the phone, and devoted many long days in meetings with landowners, wildlife and sportsmen’s groups, and politicians selling the idea.

Murphy’s dedication over the three and one-half year campaign was rewarded on May 22, 1990, when Governor Bellmen signed into law a bill allowing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to establish a national wildlife refuge. A cooperative effort between the FWS and the state of Oklahoma, the Deep Fork National Wildlife Refuge will eventually protect 20,000 acres of wetlands along the river. As a result of Murphy’s efforts, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation has pledged up to $1 million for the acquisition of bottomland hardwoods along the Deep Fork, and Congress has allocated over $2 million since 1990 to begin acquisition of the 20,000-acre refuge. To date, Oklahoma has purchased approximately 4,500 acres for protection as a wildlife management area.

The Refuge will also bring economic benefits. Once it is established, approximately 150,000 visitors to the Refuge are expected to generate $1.7 million annually for the local economy.

Murphy has been cited by the Oklahoma Wildlife Federation, National Wildlife Federation, and The Nature Conservancy for his conservation work.

— Dwight Inman, Deep Fork Wetlands Coalition